Although scientists cannot attribute the development of Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to one direct cause, they have not given up on finding out which gene or chemical may explain it. With the current rate of 1 in 68 children in the United States being diagnosed with Autism, researchers are determined, now more than ever, to investigate further into the Autistic brain to determine how these disorders may develop.
Researchers at Stanford University’s Autism Center recently spoke to families affected by the disorder about their recent findings which may shed light on the disorder. Researchers studied brain chemistry, size, connections, and genetic profiles.
The researchers at Stanford looked intently at brain chemistry. An increasing body of evidence showed that oxytocin and vasopressin, two brain chemicals that promote trust and bonding, play a role in the disorder, and could possibly be used in the future to help diagnose and treat patients. After an experimental usage of oxytocin during treatment, Autistic patients showed increased recognition and were able to better understand the emotions of others. Dr. Eric Hollander, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has been at the forefront of oxytocin research for over a decade. According to Dr. Hollander, oxytocin therapy can also lessen stimming and repetitive behaviors. He stated that the chemical improved emotions that could be read in the eyes, as well as the ability for the patient to empathize and bond socially.
Neuroimaging has also discovered that brain size plays a significant role in Autism disorders. Enlargements were found in the cerebral volume, particularly the size and thickness of gray matter, in children with Autism. In contrast, the corpus collosum, another part of the brain, is smaller in children with Autism. This structure connects the two hemispheres of the brain. Stanford is continuing to investigate how this may affect those with ASD.
In terms of brain connectivity, scientists have focused on the fact that everything is interconnected by multiple brain systems, connected in intricate ways. Significant differences in connectivity have been found in Autistic individuals, suggesting alterations in important neural pathways and networks that contribute to the disorder.
Lastly, Stanford researchers looked into genetics. Rather than focusing on one gene that may cause Autism disorders, scientists understand that there may be several gene combinations that contribute to the development of Autism. In fact, they state that genetics may play a role in nearly 40% of cases. Testing can identify a genetic culprit in about 15 percent of Autism cases where there is an intellectual disability.
The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing other scientific progress and significant Autism research in NYC on July 1st. Speakers include Dr. Eric Hollander, Chairmain of the ICare4Autism Advisory Council, who will be discussing recent advances in translational medicine, as well as lead a question and answer session. To hear Dr. Hollander speak, please select tickets for the conference here.
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